MU tobacco ban to take effect
HUNTINGTON — Marshall University’s tobacco ban takes full effect Monday, July 1, and will be publicized by new signage and the removal of cigarette waste containers.
The policy was approved by the Board of Governors on June 11, more than a month after the spring semester ended and at a time when few students are on campus.
That irks Huntington resident and student Julie Fizer, who sat on the balcony of the Memorial Student Center on Friday for a smoke break. She calls the board’s decision to vote during the summer “sneaky” and “rather underhanded.”
“I don’t think people will pay attention to it,” said Fizer, who is anxious to see the response when thousands of students return to campus in August. “I think they’ll go about their daily lives.”
That will happen, Fizer said, because students haven’t paid attention during the past year as the tobacco ban proposal made its way through the Student Senate, Classified Staff Council and Faculty Senate. Attempts to bring forth a ban started in 2011, but the Student Senate never took a vote. Then, results of a spring 2012 survey showed — as in surveys from previous years — that students, faculty and staff supported a smoke-free campus by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, though only 370 people responded.
The proposal was broadened during the fall by the Student Senate to include all forms of tobacco. The new policy bans all tobacco products, e-cigarettes, pipes and chewing tobacco.
“I hope everyone will be respectful of our policy and help us to make our campus healthier and safer for everybody,” said Amy Saunders, the director of Student Health Programs at Marshall. “It’s a policy and, like any policy, we expect everybody to follow it. It’s change, and it’s change for the better.”
Saunders, noting that more than 800 colleges and universities nationwide have enacted similar bans, said success is built on not only marketing the change but promoting cessation groups to help people quit.
“We will be rolling out different things to work with students ... and we hope to partner with the Cabell-Huntington Health Department for cessation services,” she said. The Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and School of Pharmacy have already banned smoking on their campuses.
Promoting the ban is a top priority now for Marshall officials. New signage is being designed and should be placed in prominent locations throughout campus soon. In addition, emails have or will be sent out to all students and employees and posted on digital screens that are located inside most buildings on campus. A message also has been posted on Marshall’s website.
Saunders also said her staff is developing some marketing literature for upcoming orientations, the Week of Welcome and Rec Fest. Saunders and Rebekkah Brown, a member of the Student Senate who co-authored the policy, said they prefer Marshall’s course of action to that taken by West Virginia University. The board of governors at WVU approved a tobacco ban last spring, choosing to focus on awareness and cessation opportunities during the 2012-2013 school year before putting the policy in place for the new fiscal year, which starts Monday for them as well.
“I don’t know how there is an easy way to transition to it,” said Brown, who will be a senior in August. “It’s better to hit it head on and get the ball rolling as quickly as possible. But it will probably take a year to get everyone accustomed.”
Fizer, who said she is trying to quit smoking, isn’t against the ban. But she thinks there will be a big learning curve when students return and said modeling the implementation after WVU would allow it to be received better.
Enforcement of the policy has been questioned, but Marshall Police Chief Jim Terry said his officers will handle it on campus the way they do at football games if someone is spotted smoking inside the stadium: tell them to put it out.
Saunders added that it will more likely be enforced through education and marketing efforts, peer groups and university officials. She said they haven’t talked about bystander intervention, but she is considering adding some information on the Student Health Programs website about what to say to people who are violating the policy.
University attorney Layton Cottrill also said there will be consequences for offenders: for students, a violation of the student code of conduct; for employees, a violation of work rules; and possible disorderly conduct citations for visitors who blatantly disregard the policy.
There may be some leniency given during the first couple of weeks as students, visitors and new employees get used to the policy.
“I definitely think it will be a shock and take some getting used to,” Brown said. “People who are used to using tobacco on campus will have to have a different mindset.”
But Saunders said she doesn’t think there will be as much uproar as was portrayed during the Student Senate meeting in the fall. She pointed to the bans the health department enacted in 2010 for bars and gaming parlors, and a restaurant ban that started in 2004.
“People said (it wouldn’t work) when restaurants and bars went smoke free, but a majority of people don’t use tobacco and don’t want to be around it,” she said. “Right now, we are working to change the culture on campus.”
While tobacco bans may change the culture, it may not be changing people’s habits. Just visit a bar in town late at night and you’re likely to see groups of people lighting up between drinks. The same can be found at Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center, which enacted smoking bans in past few years. At St. Mary’s, people cross the street from the main entrance and light up, while Cabell Huntington patients and visitors can been seen on the sidewalk along Hal Greer Boulevard to smoke.
Asking if the same will happen at Marshall is tricky because, unlike the hospitals, Marshall’s property extends across major thoroughfares and includes scattered parking lots.
The main sidewalks, however, are city property and cannot be enforced, with Marshall’s Chief of Staff Matt Turner calling them gray areas because the university is responsible for maintenance. But he said he doesn’t want the ban to become a battle between university, city or private property, but a path to a cleaner, healthier campus.
“There’s a boundary there that doesn’t have a line that I think most people will recognize,” Turner said. “Let’s give credit to tobacco users ... I think most people around here are respectful of the rules. If they recognize this is a tobacco-free campus, most will respect it.”
Fizer disagrees, saying smokers will find places to light up, even along the 5th Avenue sidewalk in front of the student center.
“Everybody will go right out there and they’ll have a pack of smokers standing out front at the thoroughfare,” Fizer said. “Where everyone can see.”
The new policy does include an amendment that can allow designated smoking at outdoor events where a large number of off-campus visitors are present, such as tailgating before football games. It will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the vice president for administration.